Growing up in the country allowed our parents the luxury of not worrying about our diets. There were no Mac Donalds and candy and soda cost cash money, of which we had little. Our table was filled with vegetables fresh from the farms, very small portions of meat, locally caught fish in season, and lots of fresh fruit.
Fruit could be eaten fresh, canned for winter, made into preserves or best of all,
ending up in a fresh-baked pie. My mother inherited a natural talent for baking
and cooking from her father, who owned and operated a German delicatessen
cum grocery store for fifty years.. All the salads, soups, and cakes were personally
made by my Grandpop.
My father was the chef at our small summer hotel in the country. At six-thirty
every day he would line up the eggs, rafts of bacon, loaves of white and rye bread
for toast and all the paraphernalia needed for oatmeal, pancakes, and cream of wheat. The bacon fat was collected in #2 tin cans and placed on top of the stove
for settling. The next day the cans were placed in the refrigerator in preparation for the pie baking.
Apples, peaches, pears, plums, blueberries, cherries, and strawberries flooded
the farmers’ markets from June to September. The going price for a bushel
of apples and peaches was four dollars. Strawberries, raspberries and pears grew
right on our own property, ready for picking. In the fall pumpkins, squash, and
rhubarb were added to the mix for pie baking.
Early in the morning after breakfast, my mom would prepare the dough for the
pie crust. Four pounds of bacon lard (just the white part from the top of the cans), five cups of flour and one teaspoon of salt were dumped into a large ceramic
mixing bowl and crumbled into one/half inch pieces. One cup of this mix, placed
on a still cool marble slab rolled out into two twelve inch circles of dough to a thin
one eighth inch. A ten inch pie plate would hold two cups of cut up apples, brown
sugar and a few pieces of butter. No milky thickeners went into these pies, just the
natural juices thickened with a little water and a handful of tapioca. The top was
water-glued to the bottom and crimped with the thumb and forefinger. A few slashes
in the top allowed the steam to escape safely and a coating of half milk and half cream
insured a toasty-brown glaze.
My mom’s pies were reserved every week by dozens of lucky gourmands who tasted her
pies just once. Pumpkin pie was a favorite of mine and I can still taste in my mind the
savory flavor of spices – cinnamon, clove, ginger and allspice. The filling was firm and
custardy, not runny or stiff. The flaky crust melted in your mouth and even the bottom
remained crispy. A local restaurant got wind of this Epicurean treat and cajoled Mom
into producing an extra dozen pies per week. No fresh fruit was safe from her capable
hands and no pie was safe from our ravenous appetites.